Special Report

Antibiotics in Foods: Everything You Need to Know

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Animal products should contain no antibiotic residues

Because large amounts of antibiotics are harmful and some people are allergic, the FDA inspects all commercial meat, eggs, and dairy to ensure that they contain no antibiotic residues.

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There is a mandatory antibiotic withdrawal period for livestock

All food-producing livestock that were administered antibiotics undergo a mandatory withdrawal period so that the antibiotics can clear their system before they are slaughtered or reintroduced to the dairy or egg production line.

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Ban on use for growth purposes

In 2017 the FDA banned the use of medically important antibiotics — those also used to treat humans — in animal feed for the purposes of growth promotion and feed efficiency. The ban came as certain bacteria have become increasingly resistant to antibiotics.

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Antibiotics are used as pesticides

Antibiotics are routinely sprayed on some fruit and vegetable crops as a pesticide. About 16% of apple acreage and 40% of pear acreage is sprayed every year, though the trees are only sprayed when the blossoms appear and not while there is fruit on the branches.

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Farmers used antibiotics to promote animal growth

Around 1950, after scientists discovered that animals fed antibiotics gained weight faster, farmers began using sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics in animal feed to promote growth and increase the efficiency of their feed. This practice, however, has now been largely banned.

Beekeepers sometimes use antibiotics in their hives. The regulations on honey are not very strict in the United States and also vary from country to country. As honey is often imported, it can contain antibiotic residues.